Take A Digital Health Check

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Have you ever wondered how digitally healthy the organization where you work at really is? If you’re a freelancer or work at an agency, well, have you thought about the health of your clients?

I’m not talking about whether you have the latest mobile application or a responsive website. I’m talking about the organization that sits behind these digital tools. If the organization is not digitally healthy, then even the best technology and design will fail. As digital professionals, we like to complain that the organizations with which we work are a hindrance. But are they? Exactly how digitally-friendly are the companies we work for?

Before I help a client go through the process of digital transformation1, I need to understand where the problems lie. I do this using a digital health check. Below is an outline of the areas that I investigate, the questions I ask and what those questions reveal. My hope is that this health check will help you better understand the organizations with which you work.

We need a way to identify the organization’s structural problems and to know exactly how digitally healthy the organization is.
We need a way to identify the organization’s structural problems and to know exactly how digitally healthy the organization is.

How Digitally Friendly Is The Organization’s Structure?

An organization needs to cross many disciplines in order to manage digital. Digital is not just an IT or communications tool. It requires designers, developers, content writers, marketers, project managers, data specialists and other experts. All must work together.

Unfortunately in many organizations, departmental structure gets in the way. Specialists work within their own silos, limiting collaboration. Departments often compete for limited resources, and relationships are tense.

To see whether this is true of your organization, ask some of the following questions:

  • How do the individuals who work with digital operate? Whom do they report to?
  • Who manages the key digital assets, like email, social media, the website, the intranet, etc.?
  • How is digital overseen? Is there a steering group or does everyone report to their respective department?
  • Do specialists come together in working groups to work on particular projects?
  • Is there a good working relationship between marketing and IT?

If the answers show only limited cooperation, then you will find the use of digital to be a challenge.

Does The Organization Think Digital First?

Many organizations bolt digital onto their existing business model. Employees are so entrenched in their thinking that they fail to consider digital as a better solution. Perhaps they should consider live chat rather than a call center for customer support, or consider a thriving blog instead of endless media releases.

The point is that if digital is not at the front of people’s minds, it will never reach its full potential. To understand whether that is true for the organizations you work for, ask these questions:

  • What kind of updates appear in the organization’s social media channels? Are they just lists of announcements and news?
  • Does senior management have a good grasp of digital?
  • Is the website invested in on an ongoing basis?
  • How does the organization’s investment in digital compare to its investment in traditional communication methods (such as offline advertising)?
  • Is digital isolated to a single department, or do people use digital across the whole organization?
  • How much do employees use digital as part of their daily jobs?

If employees and management rarely consider digital, then problems will arise (if they haven’t already).

Does The Company Have A Digital Framework?

Because digital is relatively new, many companies lack the kind of support framework for it found in other parts of their business. Instead, decisions are often made ad hoc, reactively.

For example, the average university puts a huge amount of effort into printing a prospectus. Processes are in place to ensure the quality and consistency of production. Yet that same university might allow pretty much anyone to post content on its website, despite the fact that many more people will see the website than will ever open the prospectus.

A digital framework consists of guidelines, policies and processes to support digital projects. It outlines what needs to be done and the methods of achieving digital goals.

To understand what framework is in place (if any), explore the following areas:

  • What oversight is there for digital?
  • How is the brand kept consistent across digital assets?
  • What are the policies for creating and removing content online?
  • How is the use of social media governed?
  • What are the organization’s digital business objectives and key performance indicators?
  • Who is the target audience, and what are their goals?
  • How is compliance with legal requirements ensured?
  • How is the technical infrastructure decided upon?
  • Who decides whether a digital project happens?
  • What justification must exist for a new digital project?

Not having clear answers to these kinds of questions should ring warning bells.

An organization might not be able to answer every one of these questions, but there should at least be signs that it is thinking about them.
An organization might not be able to answer every one of these questions, but there should at least be signs that it is thinking about them.

How Does The Company View Its Digital Team?

A good indicator of an organization’s digital health is how it perceives its digital team. Many organizations view it like a service department, whose job is to realize other people’s vision. They are implementers.

This leads to a situation in which the people who shout the loudest or have the most authority set the digital priorities. Experience and understanding of digital become secondary considerations.

To uncover the perception of the digital team, consider the following questions:

  • Who oversees digital?
  • Does the digital team have the authority to say no to digital projects?
  • Who initiates new digital projects?
  • How senior are the members of the digital team in the organization’s hierarchy?
  • Are the members of the digital team considered experts in their field?
  • Does the digital team understand the business’ broader goals, or is it just a technical resource?

If the digital team does not own digital, then its direction will be erratic and will lack consistency.

Does The Organization Provide Adequate Training And Support For Its Digital Team?

The digital space is evolving rapidly. If digital workers are to stay up to date, they need time to experiment and opportunities to learn. They need the right environment and equipment. They need a management team that understands. If the emphasis is always on productivity, then their skill set will atrophy.

Unfortunately, many organizations fail to invest in their digital teams. Before long, those teams are only able to maintain the status quo, rather than move the organization forward, which leads to the company falling behind the competition.

To prevent this problem, you must first highlight it by asking the following questions:

  • Does the digital team have a training budget?
  • Does it have time to experiment and learn?
  • Does it have its own dedicated workspace?
  • Is it equipped to do its job, or is the digital team expected to work with the same equipment as other staff?
  • Does it control its server environment?
  • Does the IT department place limitations on the digital team’s access to the web?

Failure to invest in the digital team is a sign that the organization is not committed to digital.

A company cannot expect a return without an investment.
A company cannot expect a return without an investment.

Is Digital Adoption Encouraged Across The Organization?

An organization that is digitally healthy does not lock digital away in a silo, even if that silo is the digital team. Instead, it puts digital at the heart of everything it does. Digital is ubiquitous across the entire organization.

To get to that point and encourage adoption in every part of the business, the organization needs to instigate an ongoing program of education. This program should be one of the primary responsibilities of the digital team.

To determine the extent of digital adoption, ask these questions of a broad cross-section of the organization.

  • How often do you use tools such as social media, the intranet, the website and mass email as part of your job?
  • Have you received training to use digital beyond the content management system?
  • Are you subscribed to updates on what the organization is doing with digital? Do such updates exist?
  • Do you often speak with the digital team?
  • Do you read any technology- or digital-related content online?

A lack of positive answers to these questions is a sign that digital has become siloed, which will limit the value that the organization can extract from it.

Is There A Culture Of Iteration?

One of the biggest dangers is an organization perceiving digital as a series of discrete projects — usually meaning a website redesign every few years. Between these redesigns, only minimal maintenance happens.

An organization needs to always be investing in digital. It needs to evolve its offering through a process of testing and iteration.

To find out whether your organization thinks iteratively about digital, ask these questions:

  • Is the website updated and tested often, or is it redesigned every few years?
  • Does the digital team spend most of its time on maintenance, or does it have time to develop its tools?
  • Does the digital team follow some form of agile methodology?
  • Does it carry out split testing and usability testing regularly?
  • Does it monitor analytics and look for ways to improve them?

A culture of continual iteration ensures that your digital tools operate at peak efficiency. Digital tools that are only redesigned every few years will be ineffective much of the time.

How Customer-Focused Is The Organization?

Digital has had a significant impact on customer behavior. Thanks to mobile, customers have come to expect 24/7 service. Social media has given them a far greater voice and has increased the importance of peer-to-peer recommendations. Finally, the web has made it easy to compare offerings between competitors.

All of these factors have made customer service more important than ever. Unfortunately, many organizations shape their digital tools around internal processes, rather than customer needs.

Many pay lip service to user-centric design but lack commitment. Use these questions to identify how healthy your organization is in this area:

  • Have you mapped the customer’s journey?
  • Do you test usability regularly?
  • Who manages the customer experience?
  • Who answers customers’ questions in social media?
  • How do you ensure a consistent customer experience across all touch points?
  • Do you have a database of answers to common questions?
  • Is there a style guide that defines your tone of voice with customers?
  • Do you have a customer relationship management system?

An organization that doesn’t focus on customer service will find itself at a significant disadvantage. Understanding how user-centric the organization’s culture is will be vital.

What Is The Digital Landscape In The Industry?

In certain sectors, an organization can survive despite being digitally unhealthy. However, the number of these sectors is dwindling, as digital disrupts industry after industry.

Many companies have shut down because of digital disruption: Blockbuster, HMV, Tower Records, Kodak, Woolworths, Borders, Circuit City, Comp USA, Polaroid. The list goes on.

Consider digital health in the context of the company’s industry by asking the following questions:

  • What is the competition doing with digital?
  • Are new players in the industry making better use of digital?
  • Has digital made possible new products or services?
  • Has digital undermined your existing offerings?
  • Has digital changed the behavior or expectations of customers?

If digital is having a significant impact on the industry, then it makes the argument for change much easier, particularly for established players. Disruption in a industry is a strong argument that “business as usual” is no longer an option. But even industries that haven’t felt the full force of digital are ripe for change.

Digital offers untapped potential that is particularly appealing to ambitious younger companies.
Digital offers untapped potential that is particularly appealing to ambitious younger companies.

Why Do A Digital Health Check?

Will carrying out a digital health check change anything? No. What it will do is prove to management that change is needed. Like people, organizations fall into patterns of behavior that are hard to change. Unfortunately, these patterns no longer yield the same results because the landscape is different. “Business as usual” is no longer an option in the digital age, and a health check will highlight why.

Are you struggling to implement an effective digital strategy? Do you need help bringing about a digital transformation? The Digital Adaptation2 book can help you prepare and adapt your company for the new digital landscape, and teach you everything you need to know. — Ed.

(al, il)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://headscape.co.uk/digital-transformation/
  2. 2 http://www.digital-adaptation.com

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Paul Boag has been working with the web since 1994. He is now co-founder of the web design agency Headscape, where he works closely with clients to establish their web strategy. Paul is a prolific writer having written the Website Owners Manual, Building Websites for Return on Investment, Client Centric Web Design, Digital Adaptation and numerous articles for publications such as .net magazine, Smashing Magazine and the Web Designers Depot. Paul also speaks extensively on various aspects of web design both at conferences across the world and on his award winning Web design podcast boagworld.

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  1. 1

    I clicked on the heading and was expecting an interactive checklist, which would be a good departure based on this article. Based on that expectation, I didn’t read the article… but it is a good topic.

    0
  2. 2

    Paul, thanks for your article. This is a good framework to use with a client or group workshop. I haven’t been this granular during our client discovery process. I particularly liked 1) Does the digital team have a training budget? 2) What justification must exist for a new digital project?

    5
  3. 3

    Thanks for this article! As someone who’s trying to grow digital in an established agency, a lot of these points resonated with me. I’ll be adopting some of the questions in my dealing with stakeholders from here on out!

    2
  4. 4

    Well this is a long-standing issue with maximising the potential of a company website: Web Design is a Marketing medium not a IT area, just as someone in HR belongs in HR no IT even though they use a computer for daily tasks.

    I have in the past politely walked out of interviews, as I find it unacceptable that a something made from art, maths and linguistics is placed by people who have limited IT skills in completely the wrong department. IT is for hardware and that’s it really, perhaps 20 years ago some skills cross over but not any more.

    2
  5. 5

    Thanks for the article, seeing examples of the sorts of questions other people ask to help them understand the current situation of an organisation is always useful, particularly for freelancers who might change jobs regularly.

    Have you got a solid definition of “digital” that you use? I ask because what one means by digital is often different, or at least varies, depending on the company you are working with so it would be good to have a clear, tight definition of what is meant by the term. Especially for the less savvy companies, I imagine defining it up front would help them answer questions like;
    – How much do employees use digital as part of their daily jobs?
    – Does senior management have a good grasp of digital?
    – etc

    2

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